Ten Years of Lists—and Counting | The Reader’s Shelf, January 2017

In 2007, the first Reading List Council began work. To mark its tenth anniversary, the original members of the committee revisit some of their favorite winners.

In Pretty Girls (Morrow. 2015. heart-shaped-jpg122816anyduchess-jpg122816ISBN 9780062499554. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062429063), it’s been more than 20 years of estrangement for sisters Claire and Lydia. The two are forced back together by the murder of Claire’s husband. What looks like a familiar story of loss, grief, and reconciliation is abruptly upended by author Karin Slaughter into a tight, psychological thriller. With dark and shocking twists, the novel is anything but predictable.

Daniel O’Malley’s madcap The Rook (Back Bay: Little, Brown. 2012. ISBN 9780316098809. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780316193276) begins as a woman wakes in central London surrounded by corpses. She remembers nothing, but a letter in her pocket explains that she is Myfanwy Thomas of the Chequy, a supersecret paranormal agency. Further exploration into her amnesia will have to wait because someone wants her dead. Action-packed suspense mixes with humor in an extraordinary world of bizarre undercover operations.

Thomas Cromwell’s mission to orchestrate the downfall of Anne Boleyn unfolds in Bring up the Bodies (Picador. 2013. ISBN 9781250024176. pap. $17; ebk. ISBN 9781429947657), Hilary Mantel’s sequel to Wolf Hall. Mantel offers a credible behind-the-scenes panorama of Henry VIII’s England with Cromwell, Henry’s closest advisor, leading readers along. Private and public facets of Cromwell’s life are seamlessly interwoven into the narrative. Mantel’s language conveys the flavor of the era with raunchiness and sublimity in equal measure.

Judas Coyne, a jaded and unscrupulous heavy metal musician, collects macabre artifacts in Joe Hill’s Heart-Shaped Box (Morrow. 2009. ISBN 9780061944895. pap. $16.99; ebk. ISBN 9780061798306). Judas can’t resist buying a supposedly haunted suit, but, unfortunately for him, the ghost he finds is his late girlfriend’s stepfather. The spirit blames Judas for her recent suicide and is out for revenge, while Judas, of course, wants the ghost gone. The tension spins out in this superbly paced and terrifying road story and their gripping battle of survival.

Historical details, engaging characters, and religious fervor drive Ariana Franklin’s ­Mistress of the Art of Death (Berkley. 2008. ISBN 9780425219256. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781101206751). A serial murderer is loose in 12th-century Cambridge, and Henry II summons an expert from Sicily to find the killer. Imagine his surprise when Adelia Aguilar arrives to investigate. This cunning mystery features a believable, introspective heroine who faces the challenges of culture and gender and employs unorthodox forensic methods to solve the crime. The dark, edgy mood reflects the dangerous times in this complex tale with just a touch of romance.

In Tessa Dare’s Any Duchess Will Do (Avon. 2013. ISBN 9780062240125. pap. $5.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062240132), barmaid Pauline meets Griffin, a duke, just as his mother is trying to force his hand to marry. In response, Griffin challenges his mother to turn Pauline into duchess material within a week. Social differences are realistically addressed, and the pair face additional hurdles reflective of the Regency era, helping root the story and give greater punch to their eventual happiness.

Golden Son (Del Rey: Ballantine. 2015. ISBN 9780345539816. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780345539823) continues Pierce Brown’s grand and violent space opera that started with Red Rising. Darrow was born a Red, the lowest caste in a color-coded society. He has since been remade, carved into a privileged Gold. Now he stands poised to begin a revolution that will destroy both his enemies and his dearest friends. Brown presents a sweeping narrative of loyalty, vendetta, and ­sacrifice.

Sarah Addison Allen’s ­Garden Spells (Bantam. 2008. ISBN 9780553384833. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780553904123) began a series of books supporting readers’ desires for warm, intimate stories of women coming into their own. Claire Waverley has a special talent for cooking, and all her dishes include a bit of magic. Claire is not alone in her abilities; she is part of a long line of Waverley women who have singular talents. While gifted, the Waverleys are troubled, too, and this story of family dynamics plays out in serious ways, adding heft to the delights of magical realism and romance.

This column was contributed by Mirja Johanson, Perrot Memorial Library, CT; Lucy Lockley, St. Charles City-County Library District, MO; Robert Renwick, Brooklyn Public Library; Alan Ziebarth, Chicago; Joyce Saricks, Downers Grove, IL; Katie Dunneback, Washington, DC, and Arlene Griffin, Millington Public Library, LSSI, TN; Tapley Trudell, San Antonio; and Jacqueline Sasaki, Ann Arbor, MI, and Neal Wyatt. Selections are in the order given (two names indicate joint annotations)

Neal Wyatt compiles LJ’s online feature Wyatt’s World and is the author of The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Nonfiction (ALA Editions, 2007). She is a collection development and readers’ advisory librarian from Virginia. Those interested in contributing to The Reader’s Shelf should contact her directly at Readers_Shelf@comcast.net

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